In our business of specializing in rare and vintage baseball collectibles, one of the most exciting prewar card issues are Kalamazoo Bat Cards. Issued between 1886 and 1887 and known as “K-Bats,” they are CdV-sized photographic cards mounted on heavy cardboard. Some have advertising on the back, while others are blank, but they’re all very scarce, to the point that there are no known collectors with a complete set of them.
The scarcity of these cards, along with how desirable they are for advanced collectors, means that they do not move very often. According to Cardladder, only 90 of them have been sold in the modern auction era, 13 of which have happened on our Love of the Game website. A rough estimate of around 200 have been graded by SGC and PSA combined, so there’s a very small population of them.
If you recently came upon some Kalamazoo Bats cards and want to get the maximum possible monetary value possible for them, please consider consigning with Love of the Game Auctions to get the best possible exposure to an amazing community of K-Bat collectors.
Here are some of our favorite Kalamazoo Bats cards that have been brought to auction with our company:
1. 1887 N690 Kalamazoo Bats Jim O’Rourke
Jim O’Rourke was a Hall of Famer who played 21 seasons between 1872 and 1893, and came back for one game at the age of 53 in 1904. This card is from the 1887 N690 issue of Kalamazoo Bats Cards, and it’s the highest-graded of only three known examples. This is also a scarce example of a New York Giants Kalamazoo Bats card, as many of the surviving examples are Phillies players.
2. 1887 N693 Kalamazoo Bats Teams Boston B.B.C. – PSA VG 3 (MC) – King Kelly & Hoss Radbourn
This card is of the 1887 N692 issue of Kalamazoo Bats Cards, which are extremely rare. One six team cards that were issued, this one is particularly notable for its inclusion of “King” Kelly and “Old Hoss” Radbourn, who were both posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame decades after their deaths in the 1890s.
3. 1887 N690 Kalamazoo Bats Ed Andrews
Another card from the 1887 N690 set features the Philadelphia Quakers’ Ed Andrews in a batting stance, a window into the grittiness of pre-war baseball.
4. 1887 N690 Kalamazoo Bats Joseph Mulvey – SGC VG/EX 50
This is one of the highest-graded K-Bats of Joseph Mulvey, and a beautiful example. It’s a crisp photograph of the third baseman in a defensive stance like he’s waiting for a ground ball to come.
5. 1887 N690 Kalamazoo Bats #25 Arthur Irwin
This simply and beautifully-designed card features Philadelphia Quakers shortstop Arthur Irwin during practice or game action, with his teammates positioned in the outfield behind him, in an outstanding example of actual 19th-Century baseball photography that we have seen in the hobby.
6. 1887 N690 Kalamazoo Bats Arthur Irwin/Al Maul – SGC POOR 10
Another Arthur Irwin card, this one shows the shortstop tagging his teammate Al Maul in a staged photo as he slides into a base. While many N690-1 cards are blank on the back, this variation shows a rare advertising back, offering the option for smokers to redeem their baseball pictures for an assortment of prizes.
7. 1887 N690 Kalamazoo Bats Sid Farrar – SGC A
One of the most unique features of N690 Kalamazoo Bats cards are posed shots like this one, which were taken outdoors with the stadium seats and other players in the background. This card features Philadelphia Quakers first baseman Sid Farrar poised to catch a ball with three players in the background.
8. 1887 N690 Kalamazoo Bats Milligan/Larkins (Horizontal) – SGC AUTH
This dual-player card features Philadelphia Athletics catcher John “Jocko” Milligan tagging out his teammate, Henry Larkin, in front of a very unique nature scene backdrop that only partially obscures the building behind them.
9. 1887 N690 Kalamazoo Bats George “Sleepy” Townsend – SGC POOR 10
On this card, George “Sleepy” Townsend is poised behind the plate, with a fingerless glove on his right hand. It’s just one of only three graded copies in existence.